Mostly I like remakes. Generally, I am not adverse to the idea. There are remakes that add another layer of complexity to a work, or are a different interpretation of a theme. And then there are remakes that make me bloody furious, something in me wants to say it is because they are heartless, but I am not sure that is the right word. With some remakes in movies or TV, you have the impression that the people behind the new version simply did not *get* what the old version was *about*. I appreciate that as a creative person it is hard to keep your vision or version of things intact. I remember Alan Dean Foster talking at a Con about one of his scripts about a man and his dog where the studio insisted that he make the dog a man so they could shoot it as a buddy movie. Instead of just getting a script that already *is* a buddy movie with two guys, they tried to warp this thing into something it just wasn’t.
So when I read that there was to be an American version of “Life on Mars”, I was a bit worried. The British version is only two years old, and perfectly fine, why do a remake? And through “crazy, random happenstances”, I saw the American pilot the other day. And it is sad. Sad sad sad.
The charm of the original is that a.) Sam has no idea what is happening to him. B.) many of the tools he is accustomed to are not available to him. C.) the 70s truly were like another world, where people smoked and drank on the job and where women were “allowed” only the lowest of jobs in their profession. Add to that truly wonderful actors with great charisma, great cinematography and solid writing, and you have a serial that, as those young people on the interweb say nowadays, is made of win.
Along comes an American network. They say “oh, great, a recipe for chocolate cake, let’s bake that for the folks at home. Oh, wait, that much sugar isn’t good for the teeth, let’s use Splenda. Hm, and chocolate… recent polling suggests that Joe Average has a preferences for vanilla, so let’s take that instead. Now, let’s see, if we substitute the cup of milk with a cup of water, and the baking powder with ordinary flour, we could lower our expenses and bake *two* cakes instead!”. And so they did. And this is why the American version of Life on Mars is such a watered down, half-assed shadow of the original.
The 70s are different because …. people dress funny. Oh, you have the odd cigarette burning in an ashtray, Gene Hunts starts to light a cig in one scene, but you never actually *see* somebody smoke. Because our audience doesn’t have the mental capacity to put a show into a historical context. Because it is safer to cater to the lowest common denominator. Because you lose ads and money if too many morons complain that you are perverting TEH YOUTHS if you dare to show a semi-realistic approach to … well, real life.
Then there’s Annie. In the original show, it is made perfectly clear that she is a clever, capable woman that is held back by the sexism of the system, and that sometimes doesn’t dare speak up because she will get misogynistic slap downs from her colleagues. Sam and Annie profile the killer in the first episode *together*, her ideas are important for getting the kidnapper in the end. In the American version, Sam uses her as a sort of window-dummy to illustrate his point. She voices no idea of her own, she is merely an object so he can demonstrate his theory. Where in the British version the audience is confronted with sexism so ridiculous that they will probably question their own sexism while watching, so far it seems the American writers treat Annie just as sexist as her 70s colleagues.
What really boggles my mind is: why? Why change that scene? Why take away the one scene that defines the only recurring female character as a clever human being? It doesn’t add that much to the main character, it only robs the audience of yet another female character that would have been intelligent and capable.
Don’t even get me started on what they did with Gene Hunt. He is a declawed lion, not the strong (and sometimes dangerous) presence of the original. In the British series, both Sam and Gene were the focus of the series. Here it seems all other characters but Sam’s were watered down to strengthen Sam.
Now, the thing is that I don’t even love Life on Mars as I do other series. This is not a rant about what those bad bad guys in Leftpondia have done to my favourite series. I just don’t see the sense in taking something good and then watering it down until nothing of its essence is left. I have seen parts of three versions of “The Office”, the British, the American, and the German. In each the basic story is the same, as are the characters, but there are little details or story lines that are truly original to the respective countries in which the series was made. Each version is funny in its own right, and in its own way. The makers somehow understood what the whole point of the original idea was.
Somebody once told me a story of some pacific island where the American army had an airstrip, with tower and loudspeakers and radar and all that. The aeroplanes brought food and resources to the island. After the army left, the islanders made loudspeakers out of bamboo, they stood on the airstrip waving flags and so on. Because when the Americans did that, they aeroplane would come and bring food. They couldn’t understand why it didn’t work when they appeared to do the same things. And *that* is how some remakes feel like. The outer appearance is partly there, but the essence, the raison d’etre is missing.